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Judge rules some Minnesota abortion restrictions unconstitutional

A Ramsey County judge ruled many of Minnesota’s abortion regulations violate the state constitution, including a 24-hour wait period and a requirement minors notify both parents before getting an abortion.

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Abortion activists counter-protested against the Pro-Life Action Ministries rally in St. Paul on June 24, 2022. A state judge on Monday, July 11, 2022, ruled that Minnesota's existing restrictions on abortion violate the state's right to privacy.
Kerem Yücel / MPR News file
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ST. PAUL — A Minnesota district court judge has blocked multiple restrictions on abortion in the state, including a 24-hour wait period and a requirement that minors inform both parents of a procedure.

Ramsey County Judge Thomas A. Gilligan Jr. ruled on Monday, July 11, that many of Minnesota’s abortion regulations violate fundamental rights to abortion and privacy under the state constitution. His ruling granted abortion rights groups' requests in a lawsuit to block multiple restrictions on the procedure and goes into effect immediately.

In addition to the waiting period and parental disclosure requirements, the ruling means medical staff other than doctors can perform abortions and providers are no longer subject to felony penalties for violating state regulations on the procedure. Going forward, regulations will be enforced through civil and administrative penalties as other medical procedures are in the state.

"These abortion laws violate the right to privacy because they infringe upon the fundamental right under the Minnesota Constitution," Gilligan wrote. "Accordingly, this court is declaring those laws unconstitutional and permanently enjoining their enforcement."

Gilligan also blocked a requirement for second-trimester abortions to be performed in a hospital and ruled the state’s requirement for health care providers to give abortion seekers an “informed consent” statement to be in violation of free speech protections. Abortion providers must continue to report certain data on abortion to the state of Minnesota — something advocates were pushing for the court to block as well.

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“With abortion bans in half the country set to take effect in the coming weeks and months, it is more important than ever to leverage protections in state constitutions like Minnesota’s,” said Amanda Allen, senior counsel and director at the Lawyering Project, an attorney on the case. "Today’s ruling brings us one step closer to a Minnesota where everyone can get an abortion without the government getting in the way.”

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ending federal abortion protections last month by overturning Roe v. Wade, the legal right to an abortion remains protected by the constitution in Minnesota under the 1995 state Supreme Court ruling Doe v. Gomez. Minnesota’s protections have rendered the state an island for abortion access in the Upper Midwest, with neighboring states either banning abortion or appearing poised to ban the procedure.

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The town of Prinsburg, pop. 515, is being thrust into the larger, national debate over abortion as it considers an ordinance that would allow residents to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers.

While Gomez protects the right to an abortion, as well as state funding for the procedure, Minnesota’s Legislature had passed some restrictive laws. Abortion rights activists filed a lawsuit in 2019, Doe v. Minnesota, challenging Minnesota’s restrictions on abortion in a bid to expand constitutional protections for the procedure in the state.

Gilligan in his ruling said Gomez abortion protections would be "meaningless without the right to access abortion care."

It was not immediately clear early if Attorney General Keith Ellison would file an appeal in the case. Ellison at an unrelated news conference said that he'd not yet reviewed the opinion but appreciated the judge’s thorough consideration for the issue in his 140-page ruling. The attorney general said he'd not yet decided whether to appeal.

“We will be taking a good look at it,” Ellison said. “I make no secret about it, I believe in women’s right to choose. I also have the duty to defend Minnesota statutes. Both of those are my job at the same time.”

Ellison has 60 days to file an appeal, if his office chooses to do so.

Ellison, a Democrat, said his office would do everything in its power to protect abortion rights in Minnesota following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, including protecting women seeking abortion in Minnesota from legal action by states where abortion is illegal. Ellison’s office is responsible for defending challenges to state law in court.

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Ellison’s Republican-endorsed challenger Jim Schultz, who favors restrictions on abortion, called the district court decision “remarkable judicial activism.” He questioned whether Ellison mounted an adequate defense of standing Minnesota abortion restrictions given his support of preserving women's access to the procedure.

“He's interested in voicing his personal beliefs on Minnesotans and was uninterested in aggressively defending Minnesota law,” he said. “What I will do is defend Minnesota law every day of the week.”

At separate news conferences on Monday, July 11, the two candidates vying for Minnesota General outlined their ideas for combatting violent crime in Minnesota.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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